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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell emerges from government shutdown

While communities across the United States suffered from the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, the city of Grinnell emerged largely unscathed from this historic period of time.

The standoff, which developed as a result of a dispute along party lines concerning funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall, lasted for 35 days. Over that period, 800,000 federal employees were either furloughed or forced to work without pay, and government programs, such as food benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and TSA airport security run by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were either severely limited or completely terminated.

On Jan. 25, Congress passed a stopgap spending bill to open the government until Feb. 15. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans will continue to negotiate border safety funding.

“In a general way, [the shutdown] did not impact the city government of Grinnell,” said mayor Dan Agnew, who instead emphasized the shutdown’s nationwide impact on the thousands of government workers who went without pay for a month.

However, the cessation of government programs did affect some Grinnell residents. Agnew received what he described as “a few” phone calls from individuals in the Grinnell community who rely on federal funds for rental assistance, SNAP benefits or utilities subsidies.

Although the rhetoric in Washington and in the national news media focused on the political implications of the shutdown, most citizen outreach to the city government focused on basic needs for food and shelter. While Agnew heard some politically charged comments from callers, he said that his constituents mainly needed someone to listen to their concerns and direct them towards relevant resources in Grinnell.

“We are fortunate that in Grinnell we have avenues to help those people. It’s not the total answer, but it’s not like we have to reinvent the wheel all of a sudden if the federal government shuts down,” Agnew said.

The mayor credited non-governmental organizations like Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) for their work to assist those struggling financially or in terms of food security throughout the shutdown.

He also pointed to monetary support made available to community members by the Campbell Fund. John Campbell, a Civil War veteran and landowner who died in 1933, bequeathed his estate to the “worthy poor of Grinnell.” The fund prioritizes medical needs, but can be used to pay for utilities, grocery vouchers, and more. Funding requests are reviewed once a week and must be approved by the City Council.

As for more rural parts of Poweshiek County, the shutdown limited USDA funding for agricultural projections, mandatory audits and rural development loans and grants, among other agricultural programs.

However, Bill Menner, the executive director of the Iowa Rural Development Council, asserted that the shutdown did not limit the impact of rural development programs in Iowa. These programs consist of loans and grants that specifically support rural communities throughout the country.

In an email to The S&B, Menner wrote that “while a 35-day shutdown may have slowed the process [of granting rural development loans], it didn’t end it.”

In the upcoming weeks, a second shutdown looms if Congress cannot pass more permanent legislation to fund the government. Agnew stated that there have been no plans made on the city-governance level to prepare the City for another potential shutdown.

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